If you cross a Missouri cow pasture and don’t look where you’re stepping, chances are you’re going to wind up with a certain substance on your shoes. Same goes for voters trying to get from here to Election Day.
Not like we haven’t heard some lies already. Trade wars aren’t a good thing; they aren’t easy to win; there’s no big, beautiful, see-through wall with solar panels on it along our southern border; and Mexico didn’t pay for it. This election cycle, though, rampant unreality knows no party. On one side, we have the Fabulist in Chief. On the other, we have the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The wall is child’s play compared with the risible fantasy that Sanders has rolled out in lieu of an actual climate change strategy. It’s hard to know where to start with this document — but here are a couple of the, uh, high points:
Sanders will replace or scrap all aircraft, the vast majority of cars and trucks, most buses, trains and ships; hundreds of power plants; and much of the electrical grid — which is what he would have to do to reach his promised “100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation.” And he will do this by 2030. That’s 10 years. Boston’s Big Dig took 20.
He will spend $16.3 trillion on this project, but he promises to recoup a fair chunk of that money by suing companies for doing things that aren’t illegal (i.e., fossil-fuel companies for contributing to carbon emissions).
On he goes, across the entire economy and through all facets of daily life, waving his magic wand. Poof — no more mobile homes. Ping — nuclear waste vanishes. Fizzit — labor unions restored to former glory.
Let me be clear: I support concerted action to mitigate climate change. I’m just not sure make-believe is the best way to do it. Sanders was on the right track four years ago, when he put a carbon tax at the center of his climate plan. It’s a bold step with bipartisan support. And a president who worked extremely hard and effectively for three or four years might be able to pass it. Asked by reporters why he no longer supports the tax, Sanders replied that it doesn’t go far enough.
In other words, he hasn’t delivered on the first idea, so he’s moving on to something much bigger and far more difficult.
Like Trumpers cheering for their imaginary wall, Sanders fans approve of his fantasy even though they know it won’t really happen. “I see these proposals as both markers and mobilizing tools,” climate policy expert Jody Freeman told Hailey Fuchs and Michael Scherer of The Post. “They are a marker that says, ‘We care about climate change. We really, really do.’ ”
The implication here is that realism equals apathy. The true measure of a candidate’s convictions is the hyperbole of the promises. By this logic, former vice president Joe Biden or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) should now promise to replace all vehicles and power plants in five years. Then Sen. Kamala D. Harris or former housing secretary Julián Castro can promise to do it in the first 100 days. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) should promise to spend eleventy-jillion. Don’t they really, really, really care?
Freeman is onto something important about this political season. Voters appear to want grand gestures more than they want achievable policies. They’d rather be bathed in agreeable hogwash than be tasked with achievable goals.
Just ask Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. He produced a series of nuanced, well-thought strategies for tackling climate change through a mix of government incentives, private innovations and reasonable mandates. He’s out of the race. Meanwhile, Sanders promises the moon, the stars and — oh, by the way, in his spare time, he’ll give us a new health-care system.
John Hickenlooper, the former Denver mayor and Colorado governor whose record is thick with promises kept, offered some solid proposals for reining in student loan debt and expanding college opportunities. He’s gone. But Warren has been rising in the polls since she unveiled her half-baked pledge to make public colleges and universities free for everyone. Warren would also forgive 75 percent of all student loan debt — an extravagant notion, but not compared with what we hear from Sanders, who says he’ll erase all of it.
Of course, it’s part of a president’s job to paint a bold vision of America’s future. But the art of leadership includes the politics of the possible. Much can and should be done to speed innovation and encourage efficiency while greening our energy supply. Much can and should be done to improve educational opportunity and affordability. Much can and should be done to rationalize our crazy health-care economy. Let’s make room for some ideas that don’t assume the next president will have dictatorial powers and a grove of money trees.
Read more from David Von Drehle’s archive.